By Ravi Nanga
A few weeks ago, Trinidad and Tobago was gripped in the dispute involving The Fédération Internationale De Football Association (FIFA) and the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA), culminating in the suspension of Trinidad and Tobago from FIFA.
While Trinidad and Tobago remains suspended, our Court of Appeal has thankfully cleared the impediment that caused Trinidad and Tobago to be suspended from FIFA in the first place.
Having read the very clear and erudite judgment of the Court of Appeal, it is unfortunate that the TTFA appeared not to understand its obligations as a member of FIFA and embarked on what could only be described as a highly misconceived challenge that cost Trinidad and Tobago a very high price.
FIFA is an association that is registered in Switzerland and is comprised member associations from around the world. As a condition of membership, an individual association must agree to follow FIFA’s various rules and regulations and be bound by these rules and regulations.
It is to be assumed that individual associations would familiarise themselves with these rules and regulations and if at any time they are of the view that they no longer wish to be bound, they are free to leave FIFA.
It goes without saying that membership in FIFA is not mandatory and anyone is free not to join FIFA or to cut ties with FIFA.
However, FIFA is the governing body for the administration for football globally and oversees all major football tournaments. As part of the benefit of being a member of FIFA is the privilege to participate in these major football tournaments, and local associations such as the TTFA receive funding in order to assist with the local management of football.
The TTFA is the local body that is responsible for the management of football in T&T.
While it was a member of FIFA since 1964, it became incorporated by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (Incorporation) Act in 1982.
TTFA has a Constitution that prescribes the rules of TTFA and how it is to be administered. By this constitution the TTFA specifically agreed to be bound by FIFA’s statutes and is mandated to respect and prevent the infringement of statutes, regulations, directives and decisions of FIFA.
In the light of the very clear provisions of its very own constitution it is indeed incredible that the TTFA decided to challenge FIFA’s decision to appoint a normalisation committee in the local courts.
Part of the various rules and regulations of FIFA is the statutes which provides a comprehensive code for the administration of FIFA.
The statutes gives FIFA the power to appoint a normalisation committee. FIFA was concerned about the local executive of the TTFA and took the decision to appoint a normalisation committee in order to assume control of the management of the TTFA.
Accordingly, in accordance with the rules and regulations of FIFA, they were entitled to appoint a normalisation committee.
Upon the appointment of the normalisation committee, in accordance with the very rules and regulations of FIFA, the TTFA sought to challenge the appointment of the normalisation committee by filing an appeal in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which was the correct procedure.
Having agreed to be bound by the rules and regulations of FIFA, the TTFA also agreed that any disputes between them and FIFA will be referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
While the TTFA embarked on the correct procedure initially, when FIFA decided, as was their practice, not to pay for the hearing before the Court of Arbitration, the TTFA took the unusual decision to discontinue the proceedings before the Court of Arbitration and decided to file the local proceedings.
Given the very clear provisions of the FIFA rules and regulations, when the TTFA commenced the local High Court proceedings, FIFA took the position that these proceedings were in breach of FIFA’s rules and regulations.
Although the High Court disagreed with FIFA’s position, relying in part on the fact that being a statutorily incorporated body, and accordingly, the jurisdiction of the High Court could not be ousted in favour of the Court of Arbitration, the Court of Appeal overturned that decision and found that under the rules and regulations of FIFA, any dispute between the parties must be referred to the Court of Arbitration, as per the agreement between the parties.
Given the relationship between FIFA and the TTFA, where they agreed to refer disputes to the Court of Arbitration, the Court of Appeal found that such agreements were a normal part of commercial agreements and where the parties entered into such an agreement, it was binding on the parties and they ought not to be allowed to resile from such an agreement.
Accordingly, the Court of Appeal found that the TTFA was wrong to have commenced the High Court proceedings in light of the rules and regulations of FIFA and if the TTFA felt aggrieved by the decision to appoint a normalisation committee, the proper procedure to have been adopted was to refer the matter to the Court of Arbitration, which was initially done by the TTFA but which was subsequently withdrawn.
In the circumstances, the Court of Appeal dismissed the local challenge to FIFA’s decision to appoint the normalisation committee. At the end of the day the TTFA was wrong to have challenged FIFA’s decision in the local Courts and not utilise the Court of Arbitration.
In deciding to join any association, it is important to fully understand the rules and regulations of the association. If you are not in agreement with the rules and regulations, then you are free not to join.
However, once you take the decision to join, it is important that you abide by the relevant rules and regulations.